Madonna and Gypsies

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I noticed that Madonna recently got booed at a concert for saying that gypsies have been discriminated against.  That reminded me of an experience Marla and I had several years ago.

We were in Rome outside the Coliseum late in the afternoon after everything was closed so there were not many people around.  Marla and I were novice international travellers and I am a little embarrassed to tell this, but we were carrying around money, credit cards and our passports in fanny packs.  We were under the delusion that if our valuables were right there in front of us, it would be impossible to get pick pocketed.

Anyway, as we walked down a quiet street, all of a sudden a bunch of what appeared to be beggers (I now know they were gypsies) showed up.  Most were women and several were holding babies. Others were holding signs.  They came up and got very close to us, holding out their hands for money and chattering in Italian.  Somehow, they separated Marla and I.  I was not concerned because they seemed harmless.

I kept walking quickly trying to get through them and so did Marla.  However, she got behind me.  At that point, warning bells went off in my head.  I turned around and saw money lying all over the street.  The women had somehow opened her fanny pack and cleaned her out.  Fortunately, everything had fallen on the street.

I dove through the crowd to Marla and the women backed off except for one who kept chattering.  We actually scooped up all the money and began trying to get away.  The one woman stayed with us, chattering and managing to guide us away from the area.  I now know her job was to distract us so that everyone else could get away.  Then all of a sudden, she disappeared.

The next moment, Marla and I found ourselves alone on a quiet street.  It was bizarre how quickly things changed from mass confusion to peace.  We started trying to calculate the damage.  Though she had $1000 in cash, credit cards and passports in the fanny pack, we only lost less than $100 cash and the credit cards.  So, no real harm done and we were certainly wiser for the experience.

That is my only real experience with gypsies but I know that that the issue raised by Madonna is very complex.  That culture is very unusual and like any other, has its good and bad points.  If you start studying it, you will learn some very surprising things.

Though of course what they did was wrong, I have often thought with admiration about how sophisticated their plot was against us.  It is too bad that they often have used their cunning in wrong ways.

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